The National Archives is committed to digitising our collections as a tool for both access and preservation. The decision to make the collection of official First World War unit war diaries (series WO 95) available online has involved a huge collaborative effort across many departments and teams at The National Archives, and beyond. The project will make this important collection more accessible, and allows people to engage directly with the series by transcribing the pages as part of Operation War Diary.
There are 5,500 boxes of war diaries and the first phase of the project digitised 2,097 of these between 2011 and 2012. Each box contains an average of 700 documents of varying types, sizes, media and papers, so the whole series contains approximately 3,850,000 pages. The content is challenging for conservators and the digitisation teams as the material varies from pages smaller than A5 to large maps that can open out to more than double A0 size.
Conservators play an important part in digitisation. Documents can be handled multiple times during the process; we ensure they are protected. To reflect this, The National Archives is unique in having a separate team of qualified conservators who work specifically on digitisation projects as part of our Digitisation Services department. The team is strongly linked to the Collection Care department, who have responsibility for all other aspects of preservation, conservation and research in this area. We keep to the same ethical and professional standards.
Conservation for digitisation is undertaken before any digitisation occurs. It focuses on stabilising any documents that have suffered damage in the past to ensure that the risk of further damage is minimised, and on addressing any damage that may reduce legibility of the writing or image, so that we present the maximum amount of content in the clearest way. We take a minimal approach for digitisation specifically, because once the records are available online, the originals are protected from further handling: Digitisation itself is a preservation measure. Continue reading »